Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Lawler: “Shortfall” in Single-Family Production Almost All in Moderately Sized Homes

by Bill McBride on 3/22/2016 08:11:00 AM

From housing economist Tom Lawler:

CR Update: Added Census Bureau discussion of square footage at bottom.

While single-family housing production has continued to recover, the overall level of production – in terms of units – has been well short of consensus forecasts from a few years ago. In looking at the production “shortfall,” the one thing that is striking is that production of moderately sized homes has barely recovered from the cyclical lows, while production of big homes (3000+ square feet) has been running at a higher pace that in all but one year of the 1990’s.

Starts square footageClick on graph for larger image.

Before going into the distribution of single-family housing production by square feet of floor area, here is a chart of the median square feet of floor area by year for single-family housing completions from 1971 through 2015.

While Census has not yet released its annual report on the characteristics of new single-family home completions for 2015, both the median and the average square footage for completions were similar to 2014, and as such it’s probably not unreasonable to assume that the distribution of single-family completions by square feet of floor area was also similar.

starts square footageIt is a little tricky to look at the distribution of single-family housing completions over long periods of time, because (1) Census only provides annual data by broad ranges, and (2) Census has changed those ranges over time. However, looking at various relationships, and taking advantage of the fact that there is a five-year period where data are available for both the “old” and the “new” ranges, it is possible to construct reasonable estimates of production by constant ranges over time. Here is a chart based on such estimates.

And here are these estimates by averages for five-year periods, as well as for each of the last five years.

Single-Family Housing Completions by Square Feet of Floor Area (000's, Average per Year)

And here’s a comparison of single-family housing completions by square footage for the last two years compared to the average of the 1990’s.

Single-Family Housing Completions by Square Feet of Floor Area (000's, Average per Year)
1990-1999 Average3192421891701511,070
2014-2015 Average93107104134197634
% Change -70.8% -55.9%-45.0%-21.5%30.1%-40.8%

And here’s a fun stat.

Estimated Single-Family Homes Completed with Square Footage of 3,000 or More

1971-1995 (25 years): 1.962 million

2001-2008 (8 years): 2.399 million.

Update: From Census:
"For these statistics, floor area is defined as all completely finished floor space, including space in basements and attics with finished walls, floors, and ceilings. This does not include a garage, carport, porch, unfinished attic or utility room, or any unfinished area of the basement.

In concept, measurement is based on exterior dimensions. Measurements are taken to the outside of exterior walls for detached houses. Builders sometimes provide the gross square footage (based on exterior dimensions) of a detached structure. This footage usually does not contain unfinished space. However, in townhouses, the gross square footage often includes the whole lower level, even though that area might include a garage and unfinished rooms. For purposes of these statistics, where the floor area for a new house was reported based on interior dimensions, the figure is converted to exterior dimensions by multiplying by a standard conversion factor of 1.08. A standard conversion factor of 1.04 is used to convert figures to exterior dimensions where it was not known whether the reported area was based on exterior or interior dimensions."